Drained. Aching. Weak. Nauseated.Sixteen-year-old Abraham Cherrix of Chincoteague, Va. is no stranger to struggle. But struggle shouldn’t be necessary to obtain the right to make decisions about one’s own physical health and well-being.
Abraham endured several bouts of chemotherapy last fall after being diagnosed with cancer of the lymph system, or Hodgkin’s disease. The treatments left him exhausted and frail, his 5’11” body dropping from 156 pounds to a meager 122. Chemo took so much out of him that his father sometimes had to carry him.
After three months of treatment, his cancer went into remission. But not for good. When his cancer returned this February, Abraham, with the support of his parents, declined both chemo and radiation. Instead, he opted for an alternative form of treatments based on herbs and an organic diet. But his decision did not find favor in the eyes of the Accomack County Department of Social Services, who accused Abraham’s parents of medical neglect.
While both Abraham and his parents adamantly opposed chemo for its damaging effects, a juvenile court judge granted Social Services joint custody of Abraham and ordered that his parents take him to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Va., and comply with any and all treatments that the hospital considered necessary.
No one should be subjected to medical treatments against their will, especially ones with such cataclysmic effects.
“It nearly killed me,” Abraham said of his chemotherapy last fall.
Even with successful chemotherapy, it is not likely that a patient with Hodgkin’s will live much longer than five years after being diagnosed with the disease. Abraham should rightfully be allowed to determine in what state he will spend the remainder of his life, no matter the length, and with what method he will battle his ailment, no questions asked. Abraham is fully capable of making his own decisions. He is, after all, the one immediately affected by them.
“I did my research,” Abraham said. “I believe alternative medicine is the cure.”
While it may be true that he is legally a minor, it is also true that a 16-year-old who commits murder can be tried as an adult. A 16-year-old cancer patient should be legally treated as one as well.
And even if he is not old enough to legally take charge of his own medical choices, his parents, who are his legal guardians, advocated his stance completely. It is not medical neglect to support a patient seeking the therapy of his choice.
“Stress is one of the worst things you can deal with when you have cancer,” said Abraham’s mother, Rose Cherrix.
Stress is exactly what the legal battles Abraham has had to face have inflicted on him.
He unfortunately, however, is not the first teenager afflicted with cancer that has been forced to undergo legal conflict for the right to choose a treatment.
Katie Wernecke of Corpus Christi, Texas, then 13, was sent by court order into foster care to receive chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease last year. Her parents were opposed to the treatments.
“This is not a case about what treatment is best,” said John Stepanovich, spokesman for the Cherrix family. “It’s a case about who gets to decide.”
Abraham’s wishes should always have been the highest priority.
Fortunately, Abraham’s court ordeal ended in victory. Legal representation for the Cherrix family and social services officials reached an agreement a week ago: he will be permitted to treat his cancer with alternative medicine by a board-certified oncologist of his choice, while also undergoing hormone therapy and radiation in small doses.
While Abraham did eventually win the right to choose his treatment, the battle was one he should never have had to fight.
Opinion editor Jordan Cohen is a sophomore English major from Lewisville, NC.